Viewing archives for IT Integration challenges

How to Get Started With an ERP Project – Part II

This is the second in a two-part series on how to launch a successful Enterprise Planning Resource (ERP) project. For more information on ERP in plain English, check out our Knowledge Center.

You can read Part I here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

 

How to Get Started With an ERP Project – Part I

This is the first in a two-part series on how to launch a successful Enterprise Planning Resource (ERP) project. For more information on ERP in plain English, check out our Knowledge Center.

You can read Part II here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

A Concise Introduction to Integration Problems Part II: How to Solve Them

(This is the second of our two-part series on integration problems.
Click to read
Part I: How to Spot Them.)

So, you have identified that your company has integration problems. Morale is affected, reporting is overly complicated, you can’t plan for the future, and customer service is suffering. So, what can you do about it?

Look Before You Leap 

When looking to fix integration problems, you have a spectrum of options: at one end is a long series of fixes to individual issues; at the other end is a major, transformational project.

Either way, strategize first! Before you do anything, your Board should consider these questions:

Be aware that this discussion can reveal personal tensions in your organization. In most cases, when systems aren’t integrated, it means that departments aren’t communicating with each other — so this kind of discussion can be quite stormy, as departments may blame each other for your company’s struggles.

Avoid the blame-game. Aim for a dispassionate acceptance of the current realities and the need for change. Then figure out who will have ownership of the solution.

Putting Together Your Integration Dream Team

You need focus to solve integration problems. So, start with a competent team that has resources and authority. Appoint a Director to be accountable and give them a twelve-week timeframe within which solving integration problems is their priority.

Why twelve weeks? Because the time period needs to be long enough to actually make a difference, but short enough that business-as-usual issues can wait, so this project can genuinely be a priority.

The initial focus should be on creating a list of issues with (a) estimates of the three-year business impact of each, and (b) an assessment of how readily solvable the problem. From this list you can select, say, the top three or four problems with a commitment to solve or substantially reduce them in twelve weeks.

How to Take Small Steps Forward

Remember that integration solutions are on the spectrum between individual fixes and a big, transformational project. It may be tempting to think big — but it may not be necessary! For each issue, consider the following:

More Serious Redesign Projects

If it turns out that more serious redesigns are necessary, you’ll need an even more strategic approach. Go back to the beginning and consider how to reorganize your business to suit the needs of your customers. For example, automate manual activities wherever possible, unless it makes commercial sense or provides enhanced service that your customers value.

Then start thinking through the main processes, key performance indicators, and options for back-end systems. (Naturally, if you reduce the number of back-end systems, there will be fewer technical integrations, so there should be fewer sources of potential problems.)

A word of warning: some vendors market their solutions as a single brand, when, under the bonnet, they actually provide multiple products which are not fully integrated. So, one “product” may actually be composed of many partly integrated pieces of software.

The solution may then lie in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Basically, ERP takes all of the core processes you need to run your company — finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and others — and integrates them into a single system.

The goal is to provide all the separate aspects of your business with the same information in real-time. And the result can a huge springboard to scalability and growth.

You can read Part I: How to Spot Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

A Concise Introduction to Integration Problems Part I: How to Spot Them

Integration problems can cause your business quite a bit of damage. When systems don’t talk to each other, it inhibits growth and undermines morale. It means more mistakes and manual work. It makes reporting difficult or impossible! To make matters even worse, the problems can be difficult to understand in detail, and even more difficult to untangle.

Of course, every company has its challenges. So how do you know if integration is behind them? The first step is considering the specific issues facing your company. If you’re seeing one or more of the issues below, take a hard look at how your systems are working together or not.

The Six Most Common (and Frustrating!) Results of Integration Problems

  1. Morale is suffering. Inefficient processes don’t just hurt the bottom line. They cause errors and delays, leading to frustration and arguments. And they make it harder to provide one of the most satisfying aspects of any business – good service to customers.
  2. Reporting is inaccurate and time-consuming. Managing a successful business requires accurate and timely data. But when there are integration issues, reporting is over complicated, requiring major manual effort. You may also lack simple dashboards for managers around the business, which makes it harder to make the right decisions and delegate authority.
  3. Service is suffering. It’s not easy to provide good service when you lack up-to-date information on stock, delivery, or products. Your people should put the customer first, but their energy is drained by system problems.
  4. It’s harder for marketing and sales. Due to lack of data, great ideas never get off the ground. For example, the sales director has a clever idea for a new campaign, but it’s almost impossible to crunch the numbers. Or new plans for intelligent cross-selling or up selling are impractical, because nobody can effectively analyse purchasing habits.
  5. You can’t strategize. Your online strategy is impossible if back-end systems can’t provide a simple platform. Without seamless back-office processes, you can’t easily analyse product, stock, or sales data; you lack effective product searches and other simple “must-haves.”
  6. People are choke-points. Individuals have their own vital lists and workarounds, so they become individually critical to the operation. When these key people are on vacation or sick, then the whole business is affected and if they leave it’s a major problem!

Why Is It So Hard to Solve Integration Problems?

It can be hard to figure out solutions because busy directors just don’t have time to get to the bottom of it all. Put simply, there may be no one in your business with the skills, time, resources, and authority to solve these problems.

Another reason may lay in an accumulation of small problems, each intricate and complicated in their own way. For instance, when faced with integration issues many well-intentioned people create workarounds – their own special spreadsheets, databases, trackers, or the like. Each one solves an individual problem but adds further layers of complexity and time-consuming tasks.

Over time, more people are employed to deal with these tasks and, of course, they see it as their job. No one thinks of smart ways to eliminate their own job!

The good news is that while solving integration problems can be difficult, it’s definitely possible. If integration issues are hampering your company, learn what you can by reading the next instalment which will be published shortly.

You can read Part II: How to Solve Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

Manufacturing Insights — Part 1: The Impact of the Internet of Things

This is the first of our three-part series on the future of manufacturing. Check out Part 2: Checklist for Successful ERP Projects, and Part 3: Getting Data Right.

The Internet of Things, as you likely already know, is the idea of implanting Internet devices in everyday electronics, like your appliances—it’s having your fridge let you know when it’s time to buy more milk, or even better, ordering it for you.

Lately we hear a lot of talk about the impact of the Internet of Things on manufacturing. We’re seeing buzzwords like the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, and smart factories. So what’s really going on?

IT companies like to baffle the market with buzzwords. So it’s important to remember that the ideas are straightforward. In simple terms, the Internet of Things in manufacturing is all about technology on the production line—incorporating sensors and controllers to make production more visible, more efficient, and more controllable in real-time. It means that your staff can deal with customer requirements more accurately: managing stock, orders, and production to minimize costs, while maximizing output and quality.

In manufacturing, the Internet of Things will also help with reporting. Some companies use manually created reports, from weeks- or months-old data, for planning. The Internet of Things integrates devices into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to provide up-to-the-minute information accurately, with minimal manual intervention.

Of course, it’s not a huge step from there to automating some aspects of decision-making. This can be anything from a structure of simple rules to sophisticated machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.

For manufacturing businesses, the Internet of Things will impact on customers as well. Your customers will increasingly expect to follow the progress of their own orders through your factory. And with the Internet of Things, integration of production activities with customers, suppliers, and partners becomes possible at a far more detailed level.

For the manufacturer, though, perhaps the greatest opportunities will be monitor and communicate with your products after they’ve been shipped. You’ll get information about your products when they are in use, enabling new ways to offer maintenance and support, and new avenues for value-added services.

Looking further into the future, we believe that the more revolutionary changes in manufacturing will come via 3D printing. Rapid prototyping and iteration are already becoming the norm, but the real revolutions will be in mass customization. Endless product versions and variations will become commonplace.

3D printing will also massively reduce the need for stock-holding, especially for spares, which will free up cash. This may have a transformative effect on smaller companies and their ability to invest in new trends. We believe that ambitious mid-sized businesses will find huge opportunities in this change.

Finally, it’s worth noting that according to some experts, these trends towards local manufacturing will reverse decades (or centuries) of growth in global trade of manufactured goods. A recent ING report estimated a reduction in world trade by as much as forty percent by 2040! This will affect a wide range of industries from shipping to insurance, and may have very broad-ranging geopolitical ramifications as well.

Well, it won’t be the first time that manufacturing has changed the world. But before that happens, read on to find out how the Internet of Things can transform your business now.

Read the rest of our special series on the future of manufacturing:

Manufacturing – Part 2: Checklist for Successful ERP Projects

Manufacturing – Part 3: Getting Data Right.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

A CEO’s Briefing: solving systems integration problems

IT and Systems Integration problems can make a simple business feel complicated. Whether it’s the CRM system, Finance System, a website or sales order processing systems to name a few, these can all be affected.

We have created a CEO’s Briefing on how to address these integration challenges which you can download by clicking the button below.

 

Visit our Knowledge Centers on Technology Roadmap for Growth and ERP and Integration Issues which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT Directors, CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with SME and mid-market organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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